Miami Marlins

Marlins to sign pitcher Jeff Locke to strengthen rotation

Jeff Locke pitches for the Pittsburgh Pirates during an August 2015 game against the Marlins at Marlins Park.
Jeff Locke pitches for the Pittsburgh Pirates during an August 2015 game against the Marlins at Marlins Park. El Nuevo Herald

He’s no Jose Fernandez.

But Jeff Locke gives the Marlins another starting pitcher as they continue to rebuild a rotation devastated by the tragic death of their ace.

The Marlins reached an agreement with Locke on Wednesday on a one-year deal worth about $3 million, sources said. The Marlins also agreed to terms on a one-year, $2.5 million deal with backup catcher A.J. Ellis. Both deals are pending physicals.

Locke, a 29-year-old left-hander, has a career record of 35-38 with a 4.41 ERA in six seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Last season, Locke went 9-8 with a 5.44 ERA for the Pirates.

“We think he’s in line for a bounce-back and to give us quality innings,” said Michael Hill, president of baseball operations.

His signing comes less than two weeks after the Marlins signed another free agent starter, Edinson Volquez.

The addition of Locke would give the Marlins three left-handers in the rotation, joining Wei-Yin Chen and Adam Conley, to go with right-handers Tom Koehler and Volquez.

“To phrase [manager Don Mattingly], we just want the best five,” Hill said. “If they all throw left-handed, so be it. We’re trying to build the deepest, strongest rotation that we can.”

Locke will be re-united with Marlins pitching coordinator Jim Benedict, who worked with him in Pittsburgh.

Ellis, 35, will take over in a backup role for J.T. Realmuto.

A nine-year veteran, Ellis is a career .239 hitter. Hill said it’s possible Ellis could see more starting time than his predecessor, Jeff Mathis, and that it might allow Mattingly to play Realmuto at first base on occasion to keep his legs fresh.

“That has been something that’s been discussed,” Hill said. “It’s an opportunity to get [the catchers] off their legs, but you keep their bats in the lineup.”

▪ The Marlins also agreed to a one-year deal Wednesday with right-handed reliever Dustin McGowan.

McGowan, 34, made a career-high 55 relief appearances for the Marlins last season, going 1-3 with a 2.82 ERA.

MARLINS GAUGE JANSEN’S INTEREST

Mattingly has spoken to closer Kenley Jansen, a potential free agent target for the Marlins and a player Mattingly managed when he was with the Dodgers.

Mattingly said the discussions were more to gauge his interest in joining the Marlins than it was a recruiting pitch.

“I’ve had contact with those guys just to make sure they have interest,” Mattingly said of Jansen and Ellis, who also played under Mattingly with the Dodgers. “You just want to find the level of interest so you’re not wasting your time talking about guys that really don’t want to play in Miami.”

Mattingly said Jansen did not dismiss the Marlins as a landing spot.

The Marlins are prepared to spend big on Jansen but are in competition with the Dodgers and others for his services.

“He didn’t tell me that I’m absolutely going back to the West Coast, or I absolutely don’t want to play in South Florida,” Mattingly said. “So, basically, he was open to the idea. He’s a free agent. He’s going to hear from a lot of people, and then he gets to assess the situation of what he wants to do.”

The Marlins are also looking at free agent closer Aroldis Chapman to strengthen their bullpen but are in competition with the Yankees for the Cuban flamethrower.

▪ Giancarlo Stanton is still the Marlins’ right fielder as far as Mattingly is concerned. But that could change.

Mattingly didn’t rule out the possibility of moving Stanton to left field if advanced metrics indicate he’s better suited at that position.

“We’re kind of digging into the metrics of Giancarlo and Marcell [Ozuna],” Mattingly said. “We want to put the best club on the field and what’s best for each guy.”

Mattingly said he intends to play Christian Yelich in center field, where he spent most of the final month of last season.

“With our outfield as big as it is, he’s got closing speed,” Mattingly said of Yelich. “[He’s] kind of a [Garry] Maddox, who was in Philadelphia in the ’80s.”

But where to position Stanton and Ozuna has yet to be determined. Stanton has spent his entire big-league career in right field. But it’s possible he could move to left, with Ozuna taking over in right.

“We’re trying to put the right people in the right spots,” Mattingly said.

▪ The signing of Locke all but guarantees David Phelps will be used out of the bullpen and not in a starting role.

“We feel like he can affect more games out of the pen,” Mattingly said of Phelps, who excelled last season in late-inning relief. “With the way we are, with the loss of Jose and where we’re at, we feel like David is going to best serve us out of the pen.”

▪ The Marlins will have a tough call to make on pitcher Jose Urena, who is out of options and can’t be sent back to the minors without going through waivers. There’s a good chance he’ll make the Opening Day roster as a reliever.

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